THE Major Roads Project Authority has reduced the speed limit along a section of the Western Highway between Buangor and Ararat following safety concerns.
Drivers have been forced to slow to 80 kilometres per hour along a 500 metre stretch of the highway heading towards Ararat, down from 100 kilometres per hour since August, to ensure the safety of a protest camp.
The Authority is responsible for delivering the Western Highway Duplication project.
“This has been done in close consultation with Victoria Police to ensure the safety of drivers and others near a protest site,” Project Director Nigel Powers said.
The protest site is comprised of three campsites along that same stretch of highway, and traditional custodians have been camped in those tents and caravans for some time.
The campers are protesting the planned removal of culturally significant trees and the destruction of other culturally significant sites, which would be removed under the highway duplication plan.
Despite an announcement earlier this year that the planned removal of trees would begin, Elder Aunty Sandra Onus said nothing has been done so far.
“We have nothing in writing but we believe that no work’s going to be done until February,” she said.
“That’s why we’ve got people manning the camps and more if we need them. We’re not moving.”
The trees the camps are aiming to protect are scar trees, birthing trees, and other trees important to Indigenous culture in the area.
“I can't understand that they would want to destroy something so ancient that belongs to us, especially as pertains to our birthing trees,” Aunty Sandra said.
Aunty Sandra said that there were misconceptions in the community about what the campers want to achieve.
She said she, and others wanting to protect the sites, were not against progress but there were ways to achieve that progress while minimizing damage.
“We can’t stop the highway from going through but where we can avoid losing the trees we should,” she said.
“I agree we need highway - I'm not against progress.
“We have too many people using the roads and because we all travel on them for whatever necessary, it's scary out there when you don't have a decent road service or you can't get away from trucks.
“People's lives are at risk. We realise that and we’d be stupid to oppose any new developments that need to take place anywhere without some sort of a plan.
“We need a lot more rail haulage. We’ve got what, 30 per cent of the goods go through our rail and 70 per cent via our road. It’s mind boggling.”
Instead, the protesters want the highway plans to minimize loss as much as possible.
“I know there are some places where they won’t be able to help it but they don’t explore enough of the possibilities,” Aunty Sandra said.
The Buangor to Ararat lane duplication is part of a joint federal and state government project to improve efficiency and safety along the Western Highway.
VicRoads has previously and repeatedly pointed to official decisions by Aboriginal Victoria that did not support heritage claims for the trees.
- Protest camps at Western Highway duplication construction at Buangor over claimed Aboriginal cultural heritage of trees.
- Western Highway duplication tree removal at Ararat: Eastern Maar Aboriginal Corporation denies supporting the project.
- Activists blockade Western Highway duplication at Ararat | Photos.
While you’re with us, you can now receive updates straight to your inbox each Monday morning from the Ararat Advertiser. To make sure you’re up-to-date with all the news from Ararat and districts, sign up here.